Vatican Cardinal Accused of Protecting Fugitive Priest

Priest fled Minnesota to India as police prepared rape charges.

April 5, 2010, 4:37 PM

April 5, 2010— -- A Catholic priest who fled Minnesota for India after being accused by two teenage girls of rape continues to serve as a priest in a Catholic school system five years after his case was brought to the attention of the Vatican, according to documents and testimony in a lawsuit against the Church.

The accused cleric, the Rev. Joseph Jeyapual, oversees the hiring of teachers for 40 Catholic schools in the diocese of Ootacamund, India, according to documents in the case.

Authorities in Roseau County, Minnesota have filed an arrest warrant against Jeyapaul and say he is considered a fugitive.

In a phone interview with ABC News Monday, Father Jeyapaul said "there are false allegations against me." He says he will not return to the U.S. to answer the charges, and says his Bishop in India has told reporters he will not force him to return.

A Vatican spokesperson told the Associated Press that it suggested the priest be defrocked, stripped of his priestly powers, but that his bishop in India refused. The Vatican spokesperson told the AP it was cooperating with U.S. efforts to extradite him to stand trial in Minnesota.

The case again raises question about the handling of the sex abuse scandal by Cardinal William J. Levada, the former archbishop of San Francisco, who is now in charge of investigating such matters for the Vatican.

Cardinal Levada was notified of the charges against the priest in three letters written by Bishop Victor Balke of Minnesota, beginning in Dec. 2005, according to documents filed in a lawsuit.

In the first letter, Bishop Balke warned that to ignore the case "would be a shameful act of betrayal towards the women and girls in India to whom Fr. Jeyapaul could at present pose a risk."

In a response six months later, on behalf of Cardinal Levada, a deputy made no mention of disciplinary action against the accused priest but said he would "be monitored so that he does not constitute a risk to minors and does not create a scandal among the faithful."

The Vatican

The Vatican spokesman told the Associated Press the priest had been punished by being sent to a monastery for a year to pray.

"Cardinal Levada and the Pope himself are and continue to be the source of the problem," said Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer who obtained the internal church documents made public today.

"They chose to protect their own reputation at the peril of the children, to keep the secrets, and in this instance to continue this priest in ministry to this day knowing full well that he has raped," said Anderson.

Cardinal Levada last week accused the New York Times and other news media of being in "attack mode bout Pope Benedict XVI" over the sex abuse scandal.

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